Rizal in the American Congress
By Vicente Albano Pacis
December 27, 1952–IN the semi darkness of the ground floor of the US Capitol in Washington, I entered an office by mistake—and stumbled upon the author of the Philippine Bill of 1902—and an interesting episode in Rizalian lore.
It was 1926. Though perhaps not as critical as that of 1902, the American congressional situation with respect to the Philippines was serious. In Manila, General Leonard Wood, the Governor-General, and Manuel L. Quezon, the Senate President, were in the midst of a knock-down-and-dug-out fight. And friends of the general on Capitol Hill were active. One of them, tough and determined Congressman Robert Bacon of New York, had introduced a bill separating Mindanao and Jolo from the Philippines and retaining them under US sovereignty, should Luzon and the Visayas become independent, Senator Sergio Osmeña has rushed to Washington in alarm to try and block the shocking proposal.
A young Associated Press correspondent, I was closely watching the developments on the measure and was that day on my way to the office of Congressman Kiess of Pennsylvania, chairman of the House Committee on Insular Affairs, when I entered the wrong door. I was about to withdraw, having started to offer my excuses, but what the elderly female secretary said rang a bell in my head.
She said. “This is the office of Congressman Henry A. Cooper; can I help you?”
“Cooper of Wisconsin?” I inquired.
I had been in and out of the Capitol for five or six months and had not heard any mention of his name now seen him in the house session hall. I had no idea that he was still a member of Congress. But feeling sure now that the man into whose office I had gotten by mistake was none other than the man for whom the Cooper Act—the first Philippine Organic Law—was named, I decided to see him. I asked the secretary if I could do so.
She slipped into the dim inner office and almost right away came back to usher me in. Seated beside an ancient roll-top desk, the completely white-haired, short, thin old man trembled visibly as he rose slowly and offered me his hand.
“I’m Cooper,” he stated simply.
I explained who I was and added for its possible psychological effect that I had just left the University of Wisconsin the previous summer. But it was not necessary. The mere fact that I was a Filipino seemed to have had a tonic effect on both his strength and memory.
“Well, sir, so you’re from the Philippines?” he said in a reedy voice as he motioned me to a seat.
Having himself sunk back into his swivel chair, he continued, “I’m always glad to meet Filipinos. In all modesty, one of the highlights—one of the most thrilling moments—of my long congressional service was my participation in the drafting and enactment of the first enabling act for the Philippines. And, sir, President McKinley, Governor Taft, and the rest of us met obstacles on every side. But do you know who came to our rescue, sir? None other than you great martyr and hero, Jose Rizal.”
I had gone in, glad of the opportunity to meet a history-book name. His reference to Rizal left me in a state of trembling expectation. What he did next heightened the suspense.
He leaned back in his chair, pressed interlaced fingers on his breast and closed his eyes. He remained thus for some time. I began to wonder if he had gone to sleep as old people often do at the oddest moments. I was about to call his secretary when he suddenly opened his eyes, sat erect, gripped the arms of his chair with each hand as if he had just remembered something very important. His mind had evidently traveled some two decades back, and now he resumed talking.
“Philippine-American relations started very badly, sir!” he recalled. “Those of us who were trying to formulate what might be a just and wise Philippine policy were harassed on every side. Do you know, sir, that President McKinley finally had to resort to nightly prayer?”
With a faraway look in his eyes, he related how the president, criticized on all sides and offered conflicting advice, had finally decided to go on his knees every night in the White House. And one night there had come to him what appeared to be the ultimate solution of the situation. Give back the Philippines to Spain? Leave them to another power in the Orient—Germany, Great Britain, Japan? Abandon the Filipinos? Each of these questions had brought an unsatisfactory answer. So the president had inescapably reached the decision that the only honorable course left to America was to take over the Philippines “to civilize, to educate and to train in self-government.”
The old congressman talked of the Anti-imperialist League, headed by powerful men like Ex-President Grover Cleveland, Andrew Carnegie, and Justice Joseph Story, which was “spreading fear and indignation by alleging that the Republican Administration, in taking over the Philippines, was embarking on a career of imperialism and wrecking America’s constitutional principles.” The Democratic Party, having promised independence to the Filipinos as early as in the presidential campaign of 1900, announced itself in favor of giving that independence immediately.
“But sir,” Congressman Cooper pointed out, “the Democrats were less interested in the Filipinos than in their own skins. Do you know that their official platform declared, ‘The Filipinos cannot be citizens without endangering our civilization. . . .'”?
Although by 1902 General Aguinaldo had already been captured in Palana, Isabela, by Colonel Funston, and the backbone of the insurrection had been broken, Filipino guerrillas were still active. Americans and Filipinos were still killing each other and the American press continued to carry lurid and gory tales of alleged Filipino brutalities and atrocities. As a consequence American public opinion was bitterly anti-Filipino.
“Most Americans, including prominent Republicans and Democrats, believed that your people were unfit for self-government,” Congressman Cooper went on. “In fact, many of them, including our leading newspapers and responsible statesmen, were convinced the Filipinos were barbarians, pirates, and savages.”
Then he recalled the day when, as chairman of the house Committee on Insular Affairs, which handled Philippine legislation, and as principal author of the Bill of 1902, he made his sponsorship speech. The date was June 19.
“Soon after I’d started speaking,” he recounted, “gentlemen on both sides of the House stood up and demanded to be heard. They badgered and interrupted me often. Finally I refused to yield the floor. I made a long speech; I covered every phase of the Philippine problem—economic, social, political, and Philanthropic. But the strongest argument which I had to demolish was the claim that the Filipinos were savages unfit for self-government. Therefore, I had to address myself especially to this particular point; and, just as President McKinley looked upon God for guidance, so I called upon your Rizal for support. He didn’t fail me.”
The Congressional record for that day chronicles that Congressman Cooper opened his argument against the detractors of the Philippines as follows:
“Everyday we hear men declare that the people of the Philippines are ‘pirate,’ ‘barbarians,’ ‘savages,’ ‘incapable of civilization’. . . newspapers of prominence have repeatedly endorsed this view.
“Mr. Chairman, I am not here to join in this cry so often hear. . . . Before we say that the Filipino people are barbarians and savages whose future is hopeless, we should remember the past and not forget how largely human beings are the products of environment. . . . Think of their history! For three hundred hopeless years they had seen Spanish officials treat office merely as a means by which to rob the helpless people. For three hundred years they lived under a government which deliberately kept the mass of the people in ignorance, which deliberately sought to close to them every avenue of social and political advancement; a government under which it was well-nigh useless for a man even to attempt to acquire property, because his accumulations furnished only so much more of temptation and opportunity for the rapacity of government officials; a government which punished even the most respectful protest against its infamous executions with banishment or death. . . .
“What the Filipinos think, what they feel what they do, are only the natural results of what they have undergone. Yet, sir, despite this environment, this deprivation, this wrong and contumely and outrage, this unfortunate race has given to the world not a few examples of intellectual and moral worth—men in the height of mind and power of character.”
Then the talked of Rizal:
“It has been said that if American institutions had done nothing else than furnish to the world the character of George Washington, ‘that alone would entitle them to the respect of mankind.’ So, sir, I say to all those who denounce the Filipinos indiscriminately as barbarians and savages, without possibility of a civilized future, that this despised race proved itself entitled to their respect and to the respect of mankind when it furnished to the world and character of Jose Rizal.”
Briefly, he narrated the life of the hero from his birth in Calamba to his sentence to death by a Spanish court-martial in Manila.
“On the night before his death, he wrote a poem,” Cooper continued. “I will read it, that the house may know what were the last thoughts of this ‘pirate,’ this ‘barbarian,’ this ‘savage,’ of a race ‘incapable of civilization’!”
With eloquence and feeling, Cooper recited Mi Ultimo Adios as translated into English by Derbyshire. When the last line, “Farewell, dear ones, farewell! To die is to rest from our labors,” had faded away, there was a long, deep silence. Then the entire House broke into prolonged applause.
“Encouraged by the demonstration,” Congressman Cooper continued his narration to me, “I plunged into my climax. Even now I can remember the words; I fairly thundered them:
“Pirates! Barbarians! Savages! Incapable of civilization. How many of the civilized, Caucasian slanderers of his race could ever be capable of thoughts like these, which on the awful night, as he sat alone amidst silence unbroken save by the rustling of the black plumes of the death angel at his side, poured from the soul of the martyred Filipino? Search the long and bloody roll of the world’s martyred dead, and where—on what soil, under what sky—did Tyranny ever claim a nobler victim?
“Sir, the future is not without hope for a people which, from the midst of such an environment, has furnished to the world a character so lofty and so pure as that of Jose Rizal.”
Now visibly tired from his memory and oratorical exertions, he rested. Yet, though faintly panting, his seamy face wore more than the suggestion of a smile. He was reliving his years of power and triumph, and he was happy. His next words confirmed what his countenance had already proclaimed.
“The result was a complete triumph for Rizal, the Filipinos and justice,” he said, “and, I think I should add in all candor, myself.”
He stopped to savor the thought with relish.
“The story and poetry of Rizal did something to the House akin to a miracle,” he continued. “Your great patriot made congressmen — as well as senators — forget the Philippine insurrection and remember only your people’s travails. Rizal kindled a light by which, for the first time, Americans had done in 1776. Out of Rizal’s life and labors there was born an American-Philippine kinship that he has endured.” Almost as an after-thought, he added, “In the voting on the bill which followed shortly, American statesmen gave Rizal a sizeable majority: the measure was soon ready for the signature of the President. Theodore Roosevelt for, alas, the gentle McKinley had been assassinated the previous years.
I could not help asking him a question. For even as we were talking the Quezon-Wood quarrel raged in Manila and produced serious repercussions in Washington. “A kinship that has endured, Mr. Congressman?” I inquired rhetorically.
“Don’t ever worry for a moment.” he replied, raising a thin hand in a reassuring gesture. “The basic American policy in the Philippines is embodied in law and honored in practice. It is gradual self-government inevitably leading to independence. Having gathered the momentum of time, there’s no turning it back. Men are mere incidents; America’s policy is a matter of national honor.
“The law of 1902 gave your people their first adequate opportunity to show their political capacity. And your statesmen — Osmeña, Quezon and others — have vindicated your people and justified the faith of those of us who, in 1898-1902, saw in the Filipino with his bolo, not a brute savage, but a man defending his motherland and his freedom. You’ve made good. No American can alter that record — ever.
“And when you’re free at last — and I hope it’ll be before I die — you’ll honor Rizal even more. For he not only awakened the Filipinos and wrote finis to Spanish imperialism but also lighted the way for America.”
The interview was over. Nothing more needed to be said. We shook hands. He sank back in his chair and I turned and left.
By Leon Ma. Guerrero
December 13, 1952—OF all our national heroes, Marcelo H. del Pilar was, perhaps, nearest to the modern Filipino. Modern in his concept of political activity, modern in his belief in organization, modern in his skillful and efficient use of propaganda, he was the prototype of the modern politician, lawyer, newspaperman and civic leader. Del Pilar should surely be ranked on equal terms with Rizal, Bonifacio and Aguinaldo as a leader of the victorious revolution against Spain.
Few Filipinos realize that the Spaniards, who were after all the best judges of their enemies, placed Del Pilar ahead of Rizal and the others. General Ramon Blanco, governor-general of the Philippines at the outbreak of the Revolution, said that Del Pilar was “the most intelligent [of the Filipino politicians], the true soul of the independence movement, very superior to Rizal.”
We do not have to take the judgment of the Spanish Governor-General. Our own historians uphold the proposition that Del Pilar inspired the organization of the Katipunan, if he did not actually found and direct it. Proof of this are the facts that the by-laws of the Katipunan were submitted for approval by Bonifacio to Del Pilar, that Bonifacio used the letter of Del Pilar sanctioning the organization to recruit adherents, and that the Kalayaan, official organ of the Katipunan, carried the name of the absent Del Pilar as editor. Thus was explicit and formal recognition given to the man whose ideas and ideals inspired the revolutionary movement. So intimately was Del Pilar connected with the Katipunan, and so highly was he regarded by its leaders, that Bonifacio reverently copied the letters of Del Pilar to his brother-in-law, Deodato Arellano, considering them as sacred relics and, together with the letters that he himself received, as guides for action.
Marcelo Hilario del Pilar was born on the 30th of August 1850. It is a pity that our people did not see fit to celebrate the centenary of his birth two years ago, but the opportunity has passed forever. His birthplace was the sitio of Cupang in the barrio of San Nicolas, municipality of Bulacan.
The real surname of the family was Hilario. Del Pilar was added only in obedience to the famous decree of Claveria in 1849, the same that added Rizal to the name of the Mercados. It is probable that noble blood ran in Del Pilar’s veins. His mother was a Gatmaytan, and the prefix Gat indicated her descent from the ancient Tagalog aristocracy.
From the beginning he came in conflict with the friars, who were to become his lifelong enemies. He was a fourth-year law student at the University of Santo Tomas when he quarreled with the parish priest of San Miguel, Manila, over some baptismal fees. He seems to have been so deeply affected by this incident that he interrupted his studies for eight years, during which he worked as a government clerk. When he was finally admitted to the bar, he was already 30 years old and married to his cousin, Marciana Hilario del Pilar.
To understand his subsequent career, it is necessary to realize the political situation at the time. The real and effective political power in the Philippines during the close of the Spanish regime was exercised by the religious orders. We had what Del Pilar termed “La Frailocracia” in one of his most renowned works, that is to say, a government by friars.
They had attained this position through a shrewd and masterful strategy. To the Filipinos they denounced the abuses of the civil government, and proclaimed themselves the only protectors of the common people. To the civil government, in turn, they accused the Filipinos of being anti-Spanish and proclaimed themselves the most effective defenders of the Spanish sovereignty.
Thus, playing one against the other, the friars were able to maintain their predominance over both, in much the same way that certain elements in our own time proclaim themselves the only ones who can get American assistance for the common people, and brand their political opponents as anti-American and anti-democratic (the present equivalent of the terms mason, filibustero, and libre-pensador, so useful to the friars.)
Such a strategy of duplicity and deceit could not then, as it cannot now, succeed forever. In the end it was exposed and defeated, as it will again be discredited and repudiated in our own time. But it still worked when Del Pilar, as a young lawyer, returned to his native province and immediately proceeded to oppose it.
His counterstrategy was simple, but it reveals his political talent. He allied himself in every possible way with the Spanish civilian officials, who did not relish any more than he did the soberanía monacal, the monkish regime. Most of us, looking back at the past through the pages of a textbook, have grown to believe that all the Spaniards were bad, that their government was uniformly oppressive, that they knew nothing of constitutions, democratic rights and modern political institutions.
The fact is that Spain itself had undergone a long and ferocious revolution and civil war, and that the Spanish people had proved with their blood their understanding, devotion and right to constitutional government. There were Spanish liberals as well as Spanish reactionaries; the issue in the Philippines, as Del Pilar and Rizal saw it, was whether the liberals or the reactionaries, as represented by the friars and their supporters, would gain the upper hand in the distant colony, and whether or not the Spanish constitution and its bill of rights, and the Spanish system of representative government through the Cortes, would be extended to the Filipinos.
One may appreciate this in a flash from the title of one of Del Pilar’s pamphlets, which was called simply: “Viva España! Viva el Rey! Viva el Ejercito! Fuera los Frailes!” That is to say, “Long live Spain! Long live the King! Long live the Army! Throw the friars out!”
Such was Del Pilar’s political slogan, and he put it into practice by winning to his side liberal Spanish laymen, Filipino local officials, and the officers of the guardia civil. His father had been three times gobernadorcillo of Bulacan, and Del Pilar was used to the ways of provincial politics. He maneuvered to have one of his relatives, Manuel Crisostomo, named gobernadorcillo of Malolos, and, when the latter was relieved on suspicion of subversive activities, to have another relative, Vicente Gatmaytan, appointed in his place. Del Pilar also seems to have exercised great influence on the Spanish governor of the province, Manuel Gomez Florio.
With this organization behind him, Del Pilar took the side of the cabezas de barangay of Malolos in a bitter dispute with the parish priest over the collection of excessive taxes. Subsequently, in another controversy over the control of the civilian authorities in public funerals, he even convinced the Spanish governor to order the arrest of the friar-curate. In 1887 and 1888 he expanded his field of activities and prepared eloquent denunciations and memorials directed to the Governor-General and to the Queen Regent herself.
Obviously, the daring provincial politician could not for long escape the vengeance of the religious orders. At their instigation, a confidential investigation was held. Del Pilar was accused of being “anti-Spanish”—familiar phrase—and the counsel of subversive elements against the friars. The case was taken to Malacañan itself. This time, even his friend, the Spanish governor of Bulacan, was unable to protect him. On the 28th of October 1888, Del Pilar hurriedly took a ship to Spain as the decree for his exile from his native province was about to be signed.
In the Spanish metropolis, he plunged once more into political activity. He intrigued with the principal Spanish politicians, trying to secure promises and concessions. But above all he embarked on the gigantic one-man propaganda campaign which was to become his lifework and his main contribution to the Revolution. He edited La Solidaridad almost single-handedly, but with such rare ability that Rizal contented himself with occasional contributions from abroad.
Unlike Rizal, furthermore, Del Pilar had a modern sense of mass publicity. While the poet-hero wrote his tremendous novels in Spanish, a language that few Filipinos could read, Del Pilar flooded his native country with smuggled pamphlets written in simple Tagalog, a Tagalog that is still a model of lucidity, directness and force.
Del Pilar was no academician or theorist; he was ribald, sometimes coarse, even blasphemous. He wrote parodies of the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Apostles’ Creed, the catechism—all ridiculing his enemy the friar—and as a masterstroke of propaganda, he printed them in the same size and the same format as the pious catechism and novenas distributed by the friars to the faithful in the provinces.
It was modern propaganda; ruthless, unscrupulous, popular and tremendously effective. Yet Del Pilar was, also, a generous enemy. When his hated antagonist in polemics, the simple friar Rodriguez died, Del Pilar paid a heartfelt tribute to his sincerity, charity, love of truth, and honor, pointing out that the good father had received an exceedingly mystical education and was not to blame if he stubbornly idealized the facts of life.
When he learned from his wife that enemies, probably agents of the friars, had burned their house in Bulacan, he wrote to her: “I am not surprised over the burning of our house. Our enemies are capable of worse misdeeds! If the criminal hired for the job is one of our people, I know he was misled by his ignorance of my sincere love for him, for I cannot believe he would otherwise have sunk so low to do me harm. There is not a bit of resentment in my heart.”
How painful it was for this man to live separated from his wife and children! It was not only the penury which he suffered in Madrid; it was most of all the absence of his loved ones that drove him to distraction. His letters to his family reveal all the goodness of that heart, hidden under the truculent and combative visage of the propagandist.
His heart bled when his youngest daughter Anita, hearing that her father needed money in Spain, sent him one peso, which she had hoarded out of the Christmas gifts given to her. Upon receiving the touching present, Del Pilar wrote to his wife: “I can’t seem to forget the peso Anita sent me. I wish you had contrived somehow not to send it so that you could have bought her a pair of shoes instead. My heart bleeds every time I think of the hard life you and our children lead, and so I am very eager to return home to be able to take care of you and our children.”
Why did he not go back? He was not living in Madrid in the style of those of our contemporaries who have access to the favors of the Central Bank. He had no dollars for nightclubs and gifts. Indeed, as he said in one of his letters to his wife: “For my meals I have to approach friends for loans, day after day. To be able to smoke, I have gone to the extreme of picking up cigarette butts in the streets.…” But his friends in Spain, as well as the family council in his native land, urged him to stay, and conscious of his duties to his people, he himself knew he had to stay.
Besides, and this is a revealing episode in his life, he did not want to bring disaster upon his family and native town. It was not without bitterness that he saw the entire population of Calamba dispossessed in the furore over Rizal’s return. He wrote to his wife: “Regarding your advice about not following the example of Rizal…it is indeed very unfortunate! That man not only does not build, but also wrecks what others have built inch by inch by dint of hard labor. Of course, he really does not mean it, but because of his headlong ways, he brings misery to others. If my misfortunes bring blessing to others, I really would not mind them; but if they bring misery and disaster to many, then they are useless indeed!”
It is difficult to believe that these are words of Del Pilar on Rizal. But heroes are also human; they disagree among themselves. Rizal had his own reasons for returning, just as Del Pilar had his own for remaining in Spain. They had, one might say, two different concepts of sacrifice: Both were prepared to make a supreme sacrifice; Rizal was ready to die; Del Pilar was willing to face what was, to him, worse than death: exile.
But in the end, Del Pilar himself was convinced that it was useless to remain in Spain any longer. The time for practical politics had passed. Concessions would no longer be sufficient. He had learned enough from Bonifacio’s messages to know that the hour had struck for armed revolution.
Racked with tuberculosis, his constitution broken by years of hardships and hunger, penniless in a foreign land, Del Pilar dragged himself to Barcelona to wait for a ship back home. He was so wretchedly sick that, like an animal, he had to climb on hands and knees up to the poor garret where he lived.
He grew so much worse that he had to suspend his trip. He was taken to a charity ward. There, on the 4th of July 1896, a few days before the Cry of Balintawak, a few months before the execution of Rizal, and half a century exactly to the day before the proclamation of our independent Republic, Del Pilar died, a pauper, almost deserted, far from his beloved family, consoled only by the last sacraments of his old enemy the Church. There was not even enough money to pay for a grave. His body was buried in the private crypt of the family of a friend, on a hill overlooking the sea that lay between him and home.
Thus died the greatest of the Bulakeños, and one of the greatest of the Filipinos.
How many of us know even now where the remains of Del Pilar are buried?
With characteristic indifference, we let his body rot in a borrowed grave in Barcelona until a passing traveler took initiative, many years later, to bring back the poor bones and ashes. Today he rests in the mausoleum of the Veterans of the Revolution in Manila. He does not even have a grave to call his own. Perhaps he would rather rest there, in a common grave with those who fought for his ideals. Del Pilar was always a believer in unity, cooperation, brotherhood. That was, after all, the name he chose for the newspaper which was his lifework: La Solidaridad.
There are many kinds of heroism. There is the heroism of the martyrs like Rizal, pure and spotless victims offered in atonement for the sins of mankind. There is the heroism of the fighters like Bonifacio, bold and gallant in the vanguard of the struggle.
And there is also the heroism of those who, like Del Pilar, work and make their sacrifices in the sustained devotion of their daily tasks. Theirs is not the spectacular glory of the battlefield or the tragic splendor of the scaffold. But it is nonetheless heroic to starve for an ideal, to be lonely among many enemies, to suffer indifference and ignorance, to die a beggar and lie buried in a borrowed grave. Such was the heroism of Del Pilar.
The Other Manila
by Quijano de Manila
December 13, 1952—AROUND 1860, three Europeans visited Manila and recorded their impressions of the city in mid-19th century. One of them was en Englishman; the other two were Germans, one of whom was the unknown author of the waters reproduced on this and the following pages.
These watercolors have been in the possession of the Zobel family for the last hundred years; they believe the author to have been a visiting relative from Germany, who later married into the Manila Zobels. The original Zobels were Germans, who came to the Philippines to deal in drugs—and liberal ideas, too, incidentally. (The unknown watercolorist did a sketch of the old Zobel drugstore on Calle Real—a magnificent but rather puzzling establishment, with a sort of communion rail instead of a counter, and with a sort of altar in the center, arrayed with medicine bottles instead of candlesticks.)
By the end of the 19th century, the Zobels had intermarried with Spanish and Filipino families and were already regarded as naturales del pais. The first Jacobo Zobel considered himself Filipino and was so fully identified with the cause of reform that his name was implicated in the so-called Cavite Revolt that cost the lives of Fathers Burgos, Zamora and Gomez. As mayor of Manila, this Zobel beautified the city by planting Japanese flame tress all over town. His chief claim to fame, however, is that he gave Manila its first horse-drawn streetcars.
Among his modern descendants is the young painter Fernando Zobel, whose obsession with Philippine art and culture led to the rediscovery of these 1860 watercolors. Fernando remembers that when he was a child, his father used to show him these sketches, which had been gathered into an album. A family treasure, the album was always kept in a safe. After his father died, the family forgot about the album. They supposed it had perished during the Liberation, when the Zobels’ Manila house was destroyed.
A few months ago, Fernando was ransacking a Zobel bodega for relics of the past when he came upon the lost album. The binding had decayed, but the sketches were unharmed, dazzling his eyes with their clear beauty as he turned the yellowed pages; the album was intact. He now guards it with his life; to every historical-minded Filipino, it is certainly priceless—a glimpse of a city that vanished a hundred years ago.
Whoever the author was (he left no signature), he had wit and a keen eye, an ironic intelligence, and consummate skill. His colors sparkle as brilliantly today as when he first laid them on; a dead city lives again in jeweled sketch after sketch. But we of this generation turn the pages with increasing bewilderment; with shocked surprise; even, perhaps, with faint terror. For this is a Manila of which we have no memory, no knowledge at all. It is terra incognita, newfoundland, a strange unrecognizable place.
All of us have the same general idea of what is meant by “the old Manila, the Spanish Manila.” We instantly see the sagging balconies of Calle Real, the Gothic spires of Sto. Domingo, the silver Romanesque dome of the Cathedral. Against that unchanging background, we naively pose the conquistadores of the 16th century, the missionaries of the 17th, the grandees of the 18th, and the rebel patriots of the 19th century. But now, confronted with these watercolors, we feel like the archaeologists who, searching for the “real” Troy, found seven different Troys, one beneath the other. And we realize how many, many Manilas have come and gone, unknown to us.
The Manila that perished during the Liberation was not the old Manila, the Spanish Manila: it was only the most recent in a series of cities, each completely different from the others. Repeatedly destroyed, this tough city was never recreated in its own image—and those who now propose to rebuild Intramuros “as it was in Spanish times” still have to learn that they are dealing with a most chameleon city.
In the Manila of these watercolors, nothing is familiar, everything seems “wrong”—Sto. Domingo is not Gothic nor the Cathedral Romanesque; the Governor’s palace stands in the cathedral square, which has an iron fence running around it; San Agustin has two towers; and the Escolta, with its whitewashed one-story buildings, looks like the main street of a minor Andalusian village. We gasp with astonishment—and we wonder: what did the other, the even earlier Manilas look like?
We will never know now; the descriptions in historical chronicles cannot give us the concrete image. But the Manila of 1860 was fortunate: a sensitive artist saw it and seems to have fallen in love with it. And he has arrested its face forever in the mirror of his art.
While he was doing that, another German was observing the city, though with a far more captious eye. Mr. F. Jagor visited Manila in 1859-1860, and found cause for complaint even before he had stepped off the boat. Apparently, getting a customs clearance in Manila was as vexatious for tourists then as it is now. Mr. Jagor had to leave his luggage behind on the boat.
He thought the Walled City dreary and hot, “built more for security than for beauty.” Life there was “vanity, envy, empleomania and racial strife.” The arrabales were picturesque; but the water was bad, the streets were dusty, and the clogged riverse and canals repulsive. Moreover, everything was too expensive, more expensive than in Singapore or Batavia. And the natives showed no awe of Europeans, which Jagor blamed on the low type of mot Spanish immigrants to the Philippines and on the absence here of “that high wall reared by disdainful British arrogance” to separate the Europeans from the natives.
The city was poor in entertainment. “During my stay, there were no performances in any of the Spanish theaters; in the Tagalog theaters, there were representations of dramas and comedies, most of them translations.” There were no nightclubs; one could find no books to read; and the newspapers were atrocious. A typical issue of El Comercio, a four-page daily, carried on its front page, as news from Europe, two articles reprinted from old books.
The botanical gardens were in a sad state, the few plants withering. Fashion decreed as a diversion, in spite of the dust, an evening ride along the bay. A few minutes from town, the countryside was green and fresh, but it was not quite the thing to go there. “One went riding to show off one’s clothes, not to enjoy the contemplation of nature.” He went to a cockfight and was nauseated. “Indios sweating in every pore of their bodies; their faces expressing the evil passions that enslaved them.”
Nothing, in fact, impressed Mr. Jagor about Manila except “the beauty of the women who animate its streets.” In this, “Manila surpasses all the cities of trans-Ganges India.”
If Mr. Jagor did not enjoy his visit to Manila, another visitor of the time certainly did. Sir John Bowring, a former governor of Hong Kong, vacationed in Manila toward the end of 1860, as a guest of Governor-General Fernando de Norzagaray.
“I have heard it said,” wrote Sir John afterward, “that life in Manila is extremely monotonous; but, during my stay, it seemed to me full of interest and animation.”
He was charmed the moment he landed: a “brilliant native band,” assembled under the Magallanes monument, was playing “God Save the Queen.” He was taken to the Governor-General’s palace in the Walled City, beside the cathedral park, then called La Plaza de Manila, which reminded Sir John of the parks in London—“with the difference that this park in Manila is adorned with the lovely vegetation of the tropics, whose leaves offer a great variety in color, from the most intense yellow to the darkest green, and whose flowers are notable for their splendor and beauty.”
Every day, in the afternoon, he explored the fascinating city. And: “Every day, a new surprise.” Each arrabal of Manila seemed to have its own “characteristic distinction.” Malate was full of clerks and seamstresses; Sampaloc, of printers and laundresses. Ermita was famed for its embroidery; Pasay, for its betel nuts. In Sta. Ana were the summer villas of the rich. Tondo supplied the city with milk, cheese and lard—or so thought Sir John; more probably, the milk came from Mariquina and the chief industry of Tondo as well as of Sampaloc was to “multiply” the milk. Binondo was “the most important and opulent town of the Philippines and its true commercial capital.” On Arroceros, he watched the fleets of rice-loaded bancas and he saw a great procession of cigar girls from the nearby factory. Entering the factory, he noticed that the workrooms of the women resounded with gay chatter while complete silence reigned in the workrooms of the men.
He visited, too, the Governor-General’s “summer house by the Pasig, Malacañang,” which had “a pretty garden, a convenient bath that could be lowered into the river, a birdhouse and a small zoo, in which I saw a chimpanzee that later died of pneumonia.”
He wondered why so few people cared to enjoy “the beautiful panorama of rivers, roads, and villages” in the suburbs. Even for the Pasig, which so revolted Jagor, he has a nice word: “The aspect of the river is delicious; and no little would be the merit of the artist who could transfer to canvas, with its proper hues, so lovely a picture.” In the evenings, he joined the paseo on the Calzada; at night, there was usually a tertulia or a reception at the Palace. He had been a soldier in Spain during the Napoleonic wars and he rather regretted that the Spanish ladies in Manila had abandoned their native costume; the city’s fashionable world had adopted Parisian styles and manners.
During the fiesta of Sampaloc, which he attended with some British ensigns, he was enchanted by the vivacity of the native girls. “The styles of Paris had not yet invaded those places; but the native decorations had taste and variety, and there was as much fun and flirtatiousness as in the most sophisticated gatherings. Our young ensigns were among the gayest in the crowd and, although unable to speak the language, managed to make themselves understood by the charming girls. The feast lasted until the small hours of the morning.”
Like Jagor, he noticed the absence of racial barriers. “I have seen, at the same table, Spaniards, mestizos and Indios, priests and soldiers. To the eyes of one who has observed the repugnance and misunderstandings caused by race in various parts of the Orient and who knows that race is the great divider of society, the contrast and exception presented by so mixed a population as that of the Philippines is admirable.” At that year’s ceremony in honor of the Immaculate Conception, which was attended by the entire city, from the Governor-General down, a native priest was selected to deliver the principal speech.
Other details mentioned by Sir John are tantalizing. He speaks of a Chinese cemetery in downtown Sta. Cruz and of a bridge with seven arches, the Puente Grande, on the present site of Jones. The city seems different in more important respects, too. It then had a population of 150,000, and had had only one conviction for murder in five years. (The provinces had the same crime rate—“with the exception of the Island of Negros, where, of 44 criminal convictions, 28 were for assassination.”) But people—especially the Chinese—were already complaining of too many lawyers: there were almost 80 of them practising in Manila at that time. Besides a university and numerous convent-schools, the city had a nautical college and an academy of fine arts—“which has not, so far, produced a Murillo or a Velasquez.”
At some time in their peregrinations around so small a city, our three travelers of 1860 must have brushed against each other; one imagines them being caught up in a nasty traffic tangle on, say, Santo Cristo, among the screaming pigtailed Chinese, the carabao carts, the black-shrouded beatas, and the laughing bare-shouldered ladies in crinolines, driving past in swank victorias. The angry Mr. Jagor would be stomping past, fuming at the stinks and the dust; Sir John would be leaning eagerly from his carriage, cooing over the quaintness of it all; while on the pavement, leaning against a wall, would be the mysterious Zobel artist, smiling pensively as he studied the effect of light upon the scene and the relations of the colors. None of them knew it, of course, but our three travelers were looking upon a doomed city—a city that was very soon and very suddenly to perish, leaving only a few wracks behind.
At seven o’clock on the night of June 3, 1863, after a day of intense heat, the ground shook suddenly and violently. The quake lasted only half a minute; but, in that split minute, the entire city crumbled into ruins, burying hundreds alive in the wreckage. It was the eve of Corpus Christi. The lone survivor was, as usual, the church of the Augustinians, which had merely lost a belltower. Their palace reduced to rubble, the Spanish governors-general transferred to Malacañan, which became their permanent residence. The foundations of the old palace survive to this day.
From the ruins of that other Manila—that odd city smiling at us from the Zobel watercolors—arose the Manila we remember, the Manila of Rizal and the Revolution, the last great creation of Spain in the Philippines.—QUIJANO DE MANILA